The ISEE and SSAT aptitude tests can be very confusing. We break down for parents the differences between them and how to choose which exam to take.

Subjects Covered


What are ISEE & SSAT?

The ISEE is used for application to independent secondary schools in the United States. There are three levels of the ISEE depending on whether a student is applying for entrance to Grades 5/6, 7/8 or 9-12. The ISEE assesses verbal and quantitative reasoning, reading comprehension, and mathematics. There is also an essay component that is sent to the schools to which a student is applying. The exam lasts between 2 hours and 20 minutes and 2 hours and 40 minutes.

The Secondary Schools Admissions Test (SSAT) is another examination that is used for application to secondary schools. It assesses the reading, writing, and mathematical skills of students. It is divided into two test types, lower and middle/upper, depending upon the age of the student.

These exams are excellent preparation for the SAT exams that students take in the 10th and 11th grade; indeed, many of our students have gone on to excel in the SATs. Read more about our ISEE and SSAT private tutoring options, our experience and approach, and about testing and measuring success.

ISEE vs SSAT - which to take?

The ISEE and SSAT are very similar and we're often asked what the difference is and what is the best exam for our students to take. The only definitive answer is you need to take the test the school you're applying to requires; you should double check this with the admission departments of your schools. There is no hard and fast rule for which schools require which exam, as they are free to choose whichever exam they choose. New York private day schools and boarding schools often prefer the SSAT; whilst other private schools often only accept ISEE; nonetheless many schools accept both.

If you're in the position of being able to choose between the two exams, it can seem a difficult choice between the two. There are subtle differences between the two and one or either may be slightly better for your child. We've prepared a short guide on the differences between the two exams to help you think about this decision. We find, amoungst our students, the ISEE is about twice as popular as the SSAT. Nonetheless, both tests are quite different to what most British children are used to. Both exams rely heavily on multiple choice style questions and are of a long duration. The 11+ and 13+ syllabii are quite similar, but the exam style (and thus exam strategies) are quite different.

Our Recommendation: The ISEE

Overall, most of our clients, opt take the ISEE. Most children are more comfortable taking the ISEE and it is probably slightly easier - unless you're very strong in maths. Nonetheless, it is very important you make sure you know what tests your potential new schools accept, your school may require one and not the other.

Verbal Questions - ISEE
Synonyms and sentence completion. Generally considered to be more straightforward than the SSAT verbal questions.
Verbal Questions - SSAT
Synonyms and analogies. Often more difficult than the ISEE. The anaolgy questions are generally considered to be hardest part of the SSAT
Verbal Questions - Our Verdict
ISEE. We recommend the ISEE for students who aren't particularly strong verbally. If you really can differentiate yourself verbally then consider the SSAT.
Math Questions - ISEE
4-choice multiple choice type questions. Some question formats can seem unfamiliar to students, and there are more numerical questions in the ISEE than the SSAT.
Math Questions - SSAT
5-choice multiple choice type questions. The SSAT math questions do get very hard - and even our best students find some of them tricky.
Math Questions - Our Verdict
Tie. We don't have a strong preference, there are more ISEE math questions, but there are always some very hard math questions in the SSAT.
Marking Questions - ISEE
Only positive marking. This can feel nicer and more gentle on students who struggle to deduce 'best guesses'.
Marking Questions - SSAT
Negative marking (-1/4 mark per wrong answer). Negative marking can really intimidate some students. But with practice and experience students get used to it.
Marking Questions - Our Verdict
ISEE. Negative marking is somewhat alien to most students in the British system. Our young students, in particular sometimes find it difficult to provide an answer unless they're 100% certain and negative marking can really throw them off

Functional differences between the ISEE and SSAT

Test Levels - ISEE
  • Primary Level: entrance to grades 2 - 4
  • Lower Level: entrance to grades 5 - 6
  • Middle Level: entrance to grades 7 - 8
  • Upper Level: entrance to grades 9 - 12
Test Levels - SSAT
  • Elementary Level: students currently in grades 3-4
  • Middle Level: students currently in grades 5-7
  • Upper Level: students currently in grades 8-12
Test Format, Length & Questions - ISEE
  • Primary Level: younger grades have a short listening section; 20-30 minute reading section; 20-30 minute math section; untimed writing sample; dependent on level c.1 hour total time plus unlimited writing time
  • Lower Level: 20 minute verbal reasoning section; 35 minute quantitative resasoning section; 25 minute reading comprehension section; 30 minute math achievement section; 30 minute essay; 2 hours 20 minutes total.
  • Middle and Upper Levels: 20 minute verbal reasoning section; 35 minute quantitative reasoning section; 35 minute reading comprehension section; 40 minute math achievement section; 30 minute essay; 2 hours 40 minutes total.
Test Format, Length & Questions - SSAT
  • Elementary Level: 30 minute quantative/math section; 20 minute verbal section; 15 minute break; 30 minute reading section; 15 minute writing sample; 1 hour 50 minutes total.
  • Middle and Upper Levels: 25 minute writing sample; 5 minute break; 30 minute quantitative section; 40 minute reading section; 10 minute break; 30 minute verbal section; 30 minute quantitative section; 15 minute experimental section; 3 hours 5 minutes total.
Further Reading - ISEE
Further Reading - SSAT

Selected ISEE & SSAT Testimonials

Please see below some example ISEE & SSAT Testimonials that we have received. If you would like to hear more, you may be interested to read about our tutor guarantee or to read about Wentworth Tutors' philosophy and approach in a letter to parents from Dr Katherine Wiles, our Founder. Alternatively, some more ISEE & SSAT Testimonials can be found on our dedicated testimonials page, where you can filter by subject.

ISEE | Emily Hennah

"Emily is lovely and [my son] really enjoys working with her" ... See Emily Hennah's tutoring profile.

ISEE | Catriona Ramsay

"...Cat’s experience with the ISEE and her deep knowledge of exactly what we need to focus on make[s] her a [great] fit for what we need..." ... See Catriona Ramsay's tutoring profile.

ISEE | Thomas Evans

"Everything went well and I’m optimistic my daughter will get into both schools and then have their choice of where to go. Her ISEE results are in and they are strong." ... See Thomas Evans's tutoring profile.

ISEE | Wentworth Tutors Private Tutoring

"[The tutor] cleared all [my daughter's] doubts and reinforced her confidence in her ability to answer the questions and understand the techniques."

ISEE | Caitlin Rea

"You have captured our imagination with your methods ; I have to confess this was very much an eye opener for me, so much so that I have been inspired to learn more about what [student] knows and doesn't, how he copes and how you go about it.- From parent " ... See Caitlin Rea's tutoring profile.

Selected Profiles of our ISEE & SSAT Tutors

Please see below some example profiles of the ISEE & SSAT Tutors that we represent. If you would like to hear more, you may be interested to read about our tutor selection criteria or to read about Wentworth Tutors' philosophy and approach in a letter to parents from Dr Katherine Wiles, our Founder. Alternatively, some more ISEE & SSAT Tutor profiles can be found on our dedicated tutors page, where you can filter by subject.

I'm originally from New York, and have been living in London for a bit over a year now. After graduating from Harvard University with a Bachelor of Arts degree in English Literature and Creative Writing (Cum Laude), I received my Master's degree from the London Film School. I've been privately tutoring for years, as a peer tutor on Harvard's campus with the Bureau of Study Council, as well as with private agencies. I also have extensive experience as an Admissions Representative in the Harvard Admissions Office. I specialise in the American curriculum and US College Counselling, but know and work with the English curriculum as well. ... See Sophia Ohler's tutoring profile
My passion for tutoring stems from my own personal experience with understanding the impact that excellent teachers can have on our lives. At Winchester College, the leadership and inspiration of my teachers motivated me to succeed, and is reflected in my consistently strong academic record. Having now graduated with a First Class BA in Natural Sciences from Cambridge and successfully completed an MSc in Environmental Technology from Imperial College London, I am keen to share my understanding and passion of the sciences and mathematics with new students. ... See Thomas Evans's tutoring profile
I studied mathematics at Trinity College Cambridge; I graduated with a MA (1st) and a MMATH (Distinction); and was a Senior Scholar. Before Cambridge I went to school in Aiglon College, a premium boarding school in Switzerland. I grew up in England and Switzerland, but also lived in Asia and Africa as a child.

I started tutoring and helping other students learn in school and have been tutoring for around 15 years. I have mostly tutored maths and physics from 13+ and Common Entrance all the way up to University degree level. With Wentworth Tutors, I have also helped several students prepare for interviews with Strategy Consultancy firms: for internships, in the graduate milkround and for experienced hire positions. However, when I worked as a strategy consultancy, I also ran general business and technical skills training for groups and in 1-on-1 teaching. As a consultant I regularly helped train colleagues in Excel, programming, and SQL; and even wrote some of the courses.

Prior to co-founding Wentworth Tutors, I worked at OC&C Strategy Consultants, a top tier strategy consultancy, based in London. I am Wentworth Tutors’ business manager – setting the business strategy as well as managing the day to day operation and administration of the business.
... See Edward Smith's tutoring profile
I was brought up in Paris and moved to London to study at Imperial College, where I obtained a Bachelor’s and Master's degree in Theoretical Physics with High First Class honours. My research focussed on the way in which alternative logic systems can help us bridge the gap between quantum mechanics and relativity. I was awarded Associateship of the Royal College of Science. Although I am a science specialist, I also have a strong background in English and Verbal Reasoning. I sat the GRE in 2016 for entrance to US Grad School and got exceptionally good grades (Verbal Reasoning - 99th percentile, Analytical Writing - 93rd percentile). Since 2011, I have offered private tuition for all major examination boards as well as working for the Imperial College summer schools. ... See Nicolas Pimpare's tutoring profile
I have always been dedicated to success. In 2015, I graduated from the University of Cambridge with first-class honours in Natural Sciences, and was awarded a number of prestigious prizes for my performance. I then went on to study Neuroscience at the University of Oxford, and was awarded a Distinction for my MSc. More recently, I have moved to London to study law, and will begin my training to be a solicitor in 2018.

During my law studies, I am hoping to fill my free time with tutoring, a pursuit that I really enjoy. Over the past few years I have spent hundreds of hours tutoring, and have loved seeing my pupils become more confident and learn to enjoy their studies. I have also taken part in pro bono tutoring, helping to give less privileged students the same opportunities as those who are more fortunate, and acting as a mentor through their school careers.
... See Elizabeth Bamber's tutoring profile